Hannah Wood, a work-from-home product manager for a health-care company, would like to relocate to Philadelphia to live near her mother, but she’s struggling to find a place that will welcome her roommate, Lea, a 55-pound mixed breed dog.
Wood initially had hoped to buy a house, but the current competitive market has her searching for a rental, and landlords often limit the size and breed of dog.
“Many only accept dogs up to 15 or 20 pounds, which excludes like 60% of all breeds,” she said. “It’s been a struggle to find a place without a lot of restrictions.”
Pets are increasingly affecting their owners’ real estate choices, whether it’s the neighborhood they choose, the home they buy or rent, or how they arrange and decorate their space. A 2020 Realtor.com survey found that a majority of pet owners consider their animals’ needs before making a home purchase. Of the 2,000 survey participants, 61% were dog owners, 45% owned cats, 12% fish and 9% birds.
About half of U.S. households have pets, according to the census bureau, and in 2020, owners spent on average $1,201 on dogs and $687 on cats, according to Statistica, a provider of consumer and market data.
Pet owners tend to buy larger homes with more bedrooms, Zillow reported in October. Buyers with at least one pet are more likely to choose a home larger than 3,000 square feet, and about a third purchased a home with four bedrooms or more, compared to a quarter of buyers without pets.
“For me and many people in my generation, (my dog) is my child, where I spend my time and money,” said Wood, who’s 42 and single. “It’s time for real estate companies to understand it’s how we live.”
What pet owners want
An ideal home for Wood — who would like to move to Philadelphia by January — would be a mid-rise or smaller building with adjacent green space, a nearby park, and a space to wash Lea after a muddy walk.
Wood has lived in several very pet-friendly cities, including Portland, Ore., where dog biscuits were available at her building’s front desk, and her current home, Saratoga Springs, N.Y., where “dogs are allowed everywhere — restaurants, the post office.”
“I literally just saw someone walking a cat in a baby carriage,” she said.
Philadelphia, with 23.62% of rentals classified as pet-friendly, ranked 28th in a “Lets for Pets” list of 50 U.S. cities compiled in October by All About Cats, which offers expertise on feline behavior and health. New York was first with 66.45% welcoming rentals.
In West Philadelphia, competition is fierce in old Victorians for ground level apartments with easy access to fenced-in yards, said Lindsay Johnston with Common Ground Realtors in University City, where “a dog is very much a part of the social life.”
He sees the same dog owners walking the same loop every day, morning and evening. They also take advantage of the park and designated dog parks nearby.
Before buying or renting, pet owners should check for homeowner association or building restrictions on number or type of pets and whether they need to be spayed or neutered. Beyond enough space for their pet, the National Association of Realtors says owners often seek a fenced yard; sidewalks; easy-to-clean, durable flooring; mud room/wash area; dog door; animal pool/outdoor water feature; or a cat litter closet.
“If you have the option,” Johnston said, “get your pet after you buy or rent, in case you don’t get the square footage or other things you want.”
When Mindy Rhodes and John Braxton were house-hunting six years ago, they wanted a quiet, old house with enough acreage for her horse, Spike, whom she had been boarding. She thought the search would take several years, but they spotted an internet listing for a property in suburban West Chester, Pennsylvania, with “just enough land to bring my horse home.”
Because horses are happier in a herd, she soon acquired two donkeys, Mama and Mia, to keep Spike company. She also has three dogs, two cats, two rabbits, four chickens in a coop, and a duck named Lucy, who wears a diaper when she comes inside (”I don’t know whether I’d do that again,” Rhodes said).
She deemed cats the easiest, because they’re resilient and adaptable to their surroundings. “People train dogs,” Rhodes said. “Cats train people.”
Rhodes’ animals enjoy having the run of her three acres, as well as a spot by the fire, she said. “It’s a luxury not to have to walk the dogs.”
Having a dedicated space for pets is a major consideration when organizing a home, according to almost a quarter of the 1,000 adults surveyed last summer by the residential mortgage division of Ally Bank.
“For us, dogs are family, so it was just a natural part of the design process to consider them,” said Kirstin McGowan, of Mechanicsville, Pennsylavania, who has two yellow Labrador retrievers, Milly and Bentley.
During a recent remodel, she and her husband, Sean, added a built-in shelf for the dogs’ bowls “because there’s nothing more annoying than tripping over them in a tight kitchen,” she said.
The McGowans put in hardwood floors and use washable rugs for easier cleaning and have multiple dog beds indoors and out. Because the dogs tend to dig, the couple built a stone patio and limited landscaping to trees in their fenced back yard.
They’re in the process of adding a mudroom/laundry room and considering building in dog crates there. And they recently upgraded to a king-size bed for more room to cuddle in the morning with their two young daughters, Charlotte and Eleanor, and the dogs.
What sellers should do
Certain pet-friendly features can contribute to a higher sale price or faster-than-expected sale, according to a Zillow report on 2020 home sales. Homes that advertise a doghouse in their listing description can sell for 3% more than expected, Zillow found, while homes advertising a fenced backyard or a dog run can sell up to five days faster.
When it comes to in-person showings, however, sellers should erase any sign of a pet, especially cat odors, Johnston advised. “You’ll lose 99% of the market if you can’t remove the smell.”
Sellers should repair anything damaged by pet, have the home professionally cleaned, replace carpeting, and/or refinish floors. During showings, they should stow all toys, bowls and beds, and remove the pet from the house.
People and pets on the move
The coronavirus pandemic has fueled a surge of moving as Americans took advantage of remote work and record-low mortgage rates. At the same time, pet purchase and adoption rose as people were spending more time at home.
In 2021, nearly three-quarters of home buyers reported having at least one pet, up nine percentage points from the previous year, according to a Zillow housing trends report. Pet ownership among renters rose to 57% from 51% in 2020.
Realtors and pet owners agree that prospective home buyers and renters should do their homework and know their pets.
“The size of the dog doesn’t necessarily tell you how much space they need,” said Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, homeowner Janet Cusack, who has a St. Bernard and a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. The larger dog, Baloo, “just wants to be with people,” she said, although he does enjoy a walk in the woods.
Rhodes carefully researched the type and size of pasture and best companions for her horse and spent six months getting acquainted with her property before moving him in.
Wood learned from a stay at a pet-friendly hotel in Philadelphia that city sounds like traffic, sirens and fire alarms terrify her dog.
Instead of setting restrictions on size or species, Wood said, she thinks landlords should require owners to demonstrate their pets have been trained to coexist peacefully with people and other pets.
“Do pet interviews,” she said. “Even a Chihuahua can be mean.”